The tiny-homes fad doesn’t really speak to most people. Living in something the size of a playhouse quickly loses its novelty, no matter how many amenities you can cram into it. But who says a small building needs to actually be a home — or feel like a playhouse? Cubist Engineering, a startup in upstate New York, has a different vision for small modular structures. Think lakeside retreats, backyard offices, private studios, pool houses. Or the most fantastic digs at the RV park in Yosemite, complete with enormous glass windows, a wraparound deck and a sleek minimalist design.
The Saratoga Springs–based company, launched last month by a pair of entrepreneurs and veteran DIY enthusiasts, combines smart designs and new high-tech materials to make their vision of micro-habitation as versatile and appealing as possible. How do you achieve that without the occupants feeling like they’ve been banished to the dog house? A queen-size bed that glides silently down from the ceiling on rails at the push of a button is a good start. So is a tiny garage that showcases a motorcycle through a huge window in the living room.
Such features are all part of the company’s refreshingly modern take not only on what many consider an afterthought — the outbuilding, hideaway or guest room — but also on the long-derided idea of prefab, modular housing. “We experimented with a lot of ideas and concepts and think we came up with something pretty unique,” said co-founder Mike Haney, a former technology journalist and digital media executive who developed the concept with John Carnett, a photographer and entrepreneur who’s built or renovated several high-tech, high-efficiency homes of his own. “Our goal is to build everything to a very high level,” says Haney, “which we’re able to do because of some of the special properties of the new material we’ve chosen to build with.”
That material is cross-laminated timber (CLT), a type of engineered wood first made popular in Europe. It’s made with anywhere between three to nine sheets of wood that are glued together to create high-strength, high-density structural components, including beams and walls. The CLT that’s custom fabricated for Cubist employs Douglas fir recovered from the pine-beetle infestations that destroyed many forests in Montana, Wyoming and other western states. It’s manufactured using organic, non-toxic adhesives — sustainability benefits that appealed to Carnett and Haney as they strategized their first offerings.
The quality is certainly there, and the pricing is relatively accessible when compared to an Airstream trailer.
CLT not only has high fire-resistance and insulative qualities, but its inherent strength made the duo’s visions of attractive and efficient small structures possible. They require no metal framing, can be easily made air-tight — as well as waterproof — and can support the large window panes that help define Cubist’s aesthetic. Their first products unveiled include: an 8 x 8 foot office or studio, called the Newport; an 8 x 12 unit called the Adirondack that could make for a sweet retreat in the woods; and the Sturgis, their flagship, an 8 x 20 unit with a full bathroom, kitchen space and sleeping area. All units are 9.5 feet tall, with solid Brazilian hardwood floors, custom oak furniture and stained trim elements in other hardwoods that complete the design. The expansive windows give them a vibe that’s far from RV-chic. They’re crisp, modern and airy. “We wanted to take these small spaces and make them seem bigger, so we gave them a lot of glass,” Haney says. “Everything about them is nice and, well, not cheap.”
The quality is certainly there, and the pricing is relatively accessible when compared to an Airstream trailer. A fully furnished office or studio space starts at around $25,000, while the top-end 8 x 20 model can reach over $100,000. There’s also an option for joined units to create a larger space — and, of course, the pricing increases commensurate with the additional space.
The latter notwithstanding, the structures are also highly mobile — another benefit traceable to the strength of the CLT. Carnett and Haney designed custom galvanized trailers that can withstand the not-insignificant weight of the wood (seeing as these aren’t exactly lightweight Airstreams), and the rust-proof trailers can come outfitted with the hardware necessary for frequent towing, including lights, water and sewer tanks. Haney said they don’t necessarily see owners taking multi-destination cross-country tours the way many RV fans might (the MPG hit alone would kill you), but rather, parking them in a single gorgeous spot for several weeks or a summer. The buildings can hook up to typical RV water, septic, or electric lines, or stay completely off-grid for a while thanks to solar panels and undercarriage tanks. If the buildings are parked long-term, the wheels and hitch can be removed so the structures sit flat on the surface and look like regular buildings.
But regular, of course, they’re absolutely not.